Like so many, I was deeply moved by David Attenborough’s A Life on This Planet, and, with my heart and head in #ethicalcurriculum mode, I couldn’t help but wonder how we can use this as a teaching tool to develop more awareness in education around critical environmental issues.

‘The True Tragedy of our Time is still Unfolding. The Natural World is fading.’

Attenborough, who uses this documentary as a powerful witness statement, gravely articulated the decline seen in his lifetime alone. How human error, bad planning and our current indulgent and ignorant lifestyles are leading to a catastrophic global decline, already fully in progress.

I watched this with my daughters, aged 7 and 9, who were moved to tears by watching the film. I was too. I felt frustrated that we have evolved to live our life in such a selfish and consumerist way and this both disgusts and saddens me. Whilst I’m satisfied that the documentary evoked sympathy and empathy, I feel that it has more potential than to just lie dormant in Netflix territory. The issued raised should be interwoven into the curriculum, into an #ethicalcurriculum, to initiate deep and purposeful learning around global awareness. This is a tool with an opportunity for raising awareness, for agency and for changing mindsets.

What we really want to activate, through the education of the moral and ethical issues associated with this incredible documentary, is children and young people’s compassionate empathy. Compassionate empathy is empathy in action, not the tearful emotional empathy that we experienced when we watched the documentary, but the highest level of empathy we can experiences as human beings. The kind of empathy that results in real change and action. The kind of empathy that ignites our eco warriors, our young environmental protagonists, out climate change champions. 

‘We are bound by, and reliant upon the natural world around us.’

Attenborough talked us through the impact of climate change and human intervention on the natural world. The catastrophic species loss due to global warming and deforestation; the decline of pollinating insects, a global food crisis due to over farmed land, unpredictable weather and an almost uninhabitable earth. This impact, Attenborough described, is ‘a blind assault on our planet, fundamentally altering the foundations of our living world.’ I think this is the hook we need to use in educating our future Gretas. This isn’t about saving wildlife, it is about saving OUR lives.

So what is it we need to educate our children on to avoid this one way journey to irreversible change? Some of the issues highlighted in the programme will arise naturally in the National Curriculum, such as learning about habitats in KS1, and eco systems in KS2. BUT we need to make explicit links to the moral consequences of human action on our planet, and we can start this from a young age – after all – children develop the value of empathy as young as 2 years old!

Whilst watching the documentary, my curriculum designer brain went into overdrive! SO MANY ethical themes to explore, so many projects to initiate, so much work to do! During the film, I made a note of all the themes that I think could be interwoven into teaching, based on the information and images in the documentary. There are probably more, but I will list mine here and explore a few of them with you:

Animal welfare and rights




Climate Crisis


Corporate Responsibility






Fair trade




Fossil Fuels

Global citizenship



International Development


Natural resources

Plastic Pollution



Singapore Eco Systems


Sustainable Development Goals



UN & International organisations




Quite a few ideas, right? But each one worthy and each one a potential game changer in educating our future environmentalists. 


Just like teaching any SMSC themes, it’s important to be aware of how emotionally charged these themes are. Climate anxiety is real. Our young people are literally loosing sleep over the future of the planet.


Think about this Attenborough quote in terms of a values based curriculum;


‘Nature is our ally – a species grows when everything around it thrives too.’


So what do we do now? Attenborough spoke of the need to re-wild the earth. To rest and re create the Holocene. We can educate children to be kind to each other and to the environment. To respect it. We can educate children on how to live more sustainable lifestyles. We can educate them about the impact that human behaviour has on the planet, and of the consequences that will affect them and future generations to come. Let’s teach them about the content above – and empower them to be the humans we need them to be. Let’s connect them with global changemakers and explore their emotional responses to climate change. Let’s learn to move from anxiety to empowerment. From sympathy to compassionate empathy. Let’s start having conversations about the issues that really matter and get them into the curriculum!

This is not about saving wild life – it is about saving ourselves.

Aside from incorporating these themes into an ethical curriculum, you can start by educating yourselves. Learn about what Climate action really is, about the Sustainable Development Goals, about what happens when our waste goes into landfill, or which products contain palm oil.

You can sign up to the Eco-Schools programme: as well as linking to the curriculum, this involves the whole school, local community and makeslinks with other schools in the UK and across the globe.

Consider whether your own school is a sustainable school. What can you do to ensure your practice and policy reflects your vision for a sustainable future? Create an Eco Warriors Club, an ethical school council, or a social and environmental action plan with the community.

Will you reduce the amount of plastic you use?

Will you celebrate World Oceans Day?

Will you ensure you have plenty of meat free days on your school menu?

Will you provide a space for teachers to discuss and reflect on these issues?

Life On This Planet has got me thinking. I hope it has got you thinking too. I hope this documentary inspires you to think about how your school curriculum can impact on your children, your community and the future of the planet. And remember:

‘Nature will take care of us is we take care of it. We need to find that balance in order to thrive.’